By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What does it take to turn a normal person into a drug addict?
I remember some career information when I was in high school. We took a test to see what our abilities were and what careers might interest us the most. I don’t remember drug addict or alcoholic being on the list of possible careers. Even without any guidance a lot of people end up making a lifetime occupation out of their addiction.
How does addiction develop? Take these five steps to find your chemical dependency.
1. Experimentation with substances.
Involvement with chemicals begins with some experimentation. A friend offers you one of their cigarettes and you try it. Forget all you have heard about this or that drug being a gateway drug. Far and away the “gateway” drugs of choice are nicotine and alcohol.
Lots of kids get their start at abusing drugs by swiping a few cigarettes, maybe a pack if they can, from a family member. A leftover beer, a partial bottle sitting around, that is all it takes. Lots of seasoned drug addicts remember with me the time they took some sips on a family member’s beer or drank from mom and dad’s liquor cabinet when the folks were away.
Boys usually get their start with the help and encouragement of a male friend or an older family member. It’s not a drug pusher that gets the disease of addiction going, it is a brother, uncle, cousin or another close male.
Girls most often learn how to use drugs from their first boyfriend. They may go on to share this knowledge with other girlfriends but mostly they all compare notes and then get the next lesson from the next man in their life. Keep the learning up long enough and one of those men will teach you how to save money by sharing needles and then you can share everything that man has, especially the diseases.
2. Social drinking and drug use.
After the first trial of drug use, the budding young experimenter is likely to finds some collaborators in drug learning. The guys or gals get together and drink a few beers, sometimes they get wasted. Eventually, sooner probably, rather than later, someone brings some weed, bomb, some 420 to the party. The group has discovered marijuana; they have also discovered doing an illicit or illegal drug.
Some people have to steal the weed, others buy it, a few have “friends” who in the beginning will front it to you for free. This is probably too early in the trip for the aspiring popular person to have heard the old expression “the first one is free; the second will cost you double.”
Every week the group gets together. Say Friday night. Eventually given enough good stuff, the party stretches over into Saturday morning. There may be some getting drunk, some learning to throw up and to treat hangovers the next day.
There may be some violence, some unplanned, even unwanted sex. People may start doing illegal and dangerous things. Occasionally people get in trouble, get arrested or even killed. Usually, that is someone else in some other town, someone who wasn’t careful enough. It won’t happen to one of your group.
As long as it is social it is all good. But what happens when the group is away?
3. Substance use becomes a habit.
The time will come in everyone’s life when the group is not there that one Friday night.
This is the turning point.
It is Friday. That is the night you drink and party right? Tonight you are alone. What will you do? This is the point where a few will decide enough is enough. A few beers with friends is fine, but this getting drunk and stoned every weekend is too much.
Far too many people at this point decide that it is Friday and on Fridays, we drink and drug. They will go on with the party, friends or no friends. They may look for another group to use with or they may use alone, but at this point, they have turned a social event into a habit. They will use no matter what it takes.
4. Psychological need for substance.
The user will struggle along for a while, months, years, maybe even decades. The use now is accelerating. There is more using alone. The negative consequences begin to mount up.
There may be DUI’s. When using they do things they will regret later. There are fights, violence, possibly arrests. They decide they want to quit. At this point, they have had enough. They vow to stop drinking and drugging, well not stop exactly, but they will cut back.
The person on their way to addiction is at the point where when they try to control their use they find it is so much harder than they thought. They have lost the ability to control their usage. They need to drink more and use more to get the same high. This is called tolerance. They can’t function without the drug.
In those brief periods of not using or drinking they can’t stop thinking about the drug, how long till five and the next time they can drink?
This person is not yet fully psychologically dependent but they have developed a mental need for their drug of choice. Without that drug, they are not happy. Even with the drug they are no longer enjoying the use. They now use just to get back to normal.
5. Physical need for a drug completes the process.
At this juncture, the person is having physical problems. They may get sick when without their drug of choice. They can’t stand the thought of running out. The alcoholic now needs an eye-opener in the morning. The meth addict tries to keep back a taste to help get them out of bed. It is no longer using to feel pleasure, now it is using to get well again.
The alcoholic may have D.T’s. They may risk seizures and death if deprived of their drug. The process has gone to the end. The experiment is over. The drug has taken control of the person.
If you recognize yourself in this story, consider where you are in the process and where you want to go. If you have reached the point where this is a habit or an addiction know that there is help available to stop the disease of addiction before you reach the end.
Beyond psychical addiction, so the story goes, there are three destinations, Jails, institutions, and death.
Changing the outcome is not easy but it is possible.
Are you ready to change your direction or are you on the 5 steps to addiction path?
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.